Chapter One

Things were getting frightening. Everywhere you looked, there were reports of people going crazy and then attacking other people. There didn't look to be any good news either. Grace Carter hadn't been working more than forty-five minutes when she realized that this wasn't going to be her usual shift. Barely anyone was in William's Bar and Pub, which was strange for a Friday night. On a typical night, she could expect to serve not only several hundred or so drinks, but also to ward off at least a half dozen grabbing hands from overly eager patrons. Tonight though, they had barely fifteen people, most of them regulars and very quiet, which was probably a good thing because only three of the usual four waitresses had shown up.

"Table eight wants another pitcher of Guinness." Becky slumped against the counter, bored and disinterested in what was going on. "Where's the boyfriend tonight?" She turned to Grace, who was stacking the tray of clean glasses on the shelf behind the bar.

"Not my boyfriend, and I'm not his keeper." She slid a pitcher off the shelf and turned on the tap, beer flowing freely into it and frothing at the top. "There." She passed the pitcher over.

"I think thou doth protest too much." Becky smiled and walked off with the pitcher.

"You're a pain in my ass!" Grace called after her.

Becky wiggled her bum under her apron strings. "You love my ass," she shouted behind her.

"Of course I do," Grace snipped sarcastically as she turned back to the glasses and resumed reorganizing them. There was little else to do tonight. When Becky returned, she lifted the bin of dirty glasses and headed through the doors to the kitchen where the dishwasher was. She came back just a few minutes later with a new case of beers for the fridge.

"So where is Daryl tonight then?"

Grace gave her an evil look. "Like I said, I'm not his keeper."

"But you do know where he is."

"Yeah," she answered reluctantly. "Not any of your business though is it?"

"Fine, we'll change the subject." Becky leaned across the counter. "Did you skip your shift at the hospital this morning because you two slept in?"

Grace rolled her eyes. "I was sick this morning."

"Is that your story?"

"Tell you the truth, I think I was hung-over. Probably from mixing drinks, because I woke up all headachy and just felt wrong. Even threw up. Knew I shouldn't have let you talk me into shots."

"When did you become a bitch drinker?" The bottle blonde teased, giggling.

"About the same time we became grown ups and should have stopped drinking on work nights." She laughed with her friend. "We're never going to grow up, are we?"

"Not if I can help it!"

"I think if I could have stayed twenty-one forever, I would have. Twenty-one was a good age."

"Only because of how you rung that milestone in."

The door flew open to the bar and the two girls spun around. There in the doorway was the aforementioned Daryl, wide-eyed and looking a little crazy. He stomped over to the counter, his work boots clunking on the wooden floor. "Speak of the devil." Becky turned to him happily. "Hey Dixon! Where have you been all night?"

"Around." Daryl grunted and plunked himself down on a stool next to the counter. "Mind getting me an order of fries?"

"You want some time alone with… OUCH!" Becky looked at her friend and fellow waitress. "I mean, coming right up!" Her voice was faux-cheerful, but she turned toward the kitchen, giving them a look that said, 'you're explaining this when I get back.' Becky limped away, favoring the foot Grace had just put her heel into.

The second the door was closed, Daryl leaned over the counter. "You need to come with me."

"Daryl, I'm working. Can't this wait?"

"Carter, do you trust me?" He grabbed the hand Grace was using to wipe down the counter.

She froze and stared at him. "What has gotten into you?" She stage whispered, looking to make sure no one else had seen. Everyone else in the bar was minding their own business.

"Grace," he begged, finally calling her by her given name. "Have I ever led you wrong? Have I ever done anything wrong by you?"

"No." She pulled her hand back and rubbed her wrist. "Are you okay?"

"Please," he pleaded. "Just come with me now. Walk away and you won't regret it."

"It's bad," she said seriously, chewing on her bottom lip.

"Would I do this to you if it weren't?"

"No." She was already untying her apron strings and dropping the fabric onto the counter. He held her stare as she walked to the half door in the counter and unlatched it. When she was within reach, he grabbed her and steered her toward the door. "Becky is going to be pissed," Grace said softly.

"She'll live," Daryl grunted.

No one even glanced up as they exited William's through the front door. The parking lot was empty save for a few cars. Daryl's truck was parked in the handicapped spot right beside the entrance. Usually she would have lectured him, but the spot never got used, and he seemed preoccupied, so she just kept her mouth shut. The shiny blue pickup had a tarp over the back, covering enough stuff to seriously confuse her. Not even parked was a black motorcycle, which sat idling with the driver balancing on the heels of his boots.

"She coming?" Merle Dixon snarled.

"None of your goddamn business," Daryl snapped back. He pushed Grace toward the cab of the truck, stopping to open the door for her. She climbed up and he slammed it behind her unceremoniously.

"We're stoppin' at her place first."

"She's got fifteen minutes," his brother grunted slamming his fist against the bike and revving the engine. Daryl nodded and hurried to his side of the truck. He practically threw himself into the truck. Turning the key without bothering to do up his seat belt, Daryl's truck roared to life. "You gotta hurry when we get there." He shifted into gear and began to roll backward. Merle lifted his legs and let the bike whir to life, whizzing off into the night.

"Where are we going?" She wanted to know.

"Pack light, but pack for a long time. Something a little warmer for nights. Something that you don't mind working in. Lots of socks."

"You don't know where we're going, do you?"

He turned to her sadly. "Away, far away. As far as we can get from people."

"They here?"

"Merle is sure they had a case at General. I was just glad you weren't workin' there tonight. They're closin' down the roads as we speak. We're gonna take the loggin' road out before they think of it."

"Then where?"

"Just pack for anything." He set his eyes back on the road and didn't say anymore. Grace clenched her hands into fists, nails biting into her palms.

They pulled into her driveway just as her phone was buzzing to life. "Don't tell her," Daryl said, knowing that it was Becky having discovered their escape. "She could rat us out."

"I'm not stupid." Grace breathed. On the phone she typed, 'I love you', and sent the message before shutting it off. "Go get the stuff out of the pantry. There should be boxes beside the recycle in the garage." Daryl nodded.

Grace hurried to unlock the door and raced to her bedroom. She grabbed a suitcase from the hall closet on her way by and threw it onto her bed. She pulled back the zipper and opened her closet. Then she froze. What did you take when you were leaving civilization? She grabbed an armload of t-shirts and folded them as tightly as possible. Then came jeans and a few pairs of sweatpants. The dresser was pulled open and out came t-shirts, both short and long sleeved, several tank tops, and some pajamas. She opened the top drawer, pulled handfuls of socks and underwear and slammed them into the suitcase. On top she threw several bras from another drawer.

In the kitchen, she could hear the clanging of cans as Daryl emptied the pantry of non-perishable goods. The shaking of boxed pasta followed. He wasn't being gentle with the food. The door slammed behind him, and she resumed her packing, knowing she didn't have much time left. Before she closed the suitcase, she pulled open her night stand and took out the box of trinkets. Inside a jewelry box that was under some papers in the shoe box, she pulled out her spare ID and a roll of bills. Her safety cash. She slid them into the top pouch of the suitcase and closed the drawer. On top of her clothes, she put a picture that she had always kept beside her bed: her and her mum from her college graduation. She was pulling the zipper closed when Daryl stuck his head in the door.

"You about ready?"

"Get the spare blankets out of the hall closet."

"Sure." He turned to complete the task before stopping and turning back. "Come here," he said softly. Grace pushed herself into his open arms, holding his embrace as tightly as she could. Softly, Daryl tipped her chin up and kissed her firmly. "It'll be okay. We've got this. Merle's got a plan, and I'll make sure nothing bad happens to you." He pressed his dry lips to hers again quickly before pulling back and turning to get the extra bedding. "Better not make him wait any longer though. I don't want him pissed off at us."

"He's always pissed off," Grace reminded Daryl and he smiled grimly.

"Well, let's not make it worse then."

Grace returned to her suitcase and hauled it off the bed. She carried it through the house and checked the back door. In the driveway, Merle had turned his bike around and was facing away from the house, loaded shotgun on his hip as he leaned against the bike.

"You got yer shit together? Hurry up, little bitch. Yer wasting time," he grumbled. She ignored him and opened the truck, putting her suitcase in the backseat. She hurried back into the house to slam toiletries into another, much smaller, bag. Biting her lip, she opened the cupboard under the sink and pulled out the box of condoms she kept there for when Daryl was feeling affectionate. They weren't dating per say, but they weren't sleeping with other people either. It had been that way for years. Half the time these days she felt like they were dating. He was quite against the boyfriend/girlfriend thing though, and she didn't mind keeping it that way. Really it shouldn't have been anyone else's business. She had known him for almost fourteen years, and they had never classified their relationship as more than friends. Well, since her mother's death, it had actually been a sort of exclusive friends with benefits. No titles though. No talking of the future. Those were the rules.

Daryl was shy, reluctant to show any sort of affection, especially in public. Did she truly love him? It was possible. Did he love her? Probably in his own way. He had come to get her before fleeing town after all. That had to mean something.

He came up behind her quietly, reaching around her to open the medicine cabinet and pull out both her toothbrush and the spare one he kept in there, along with their toothpaste. With his front pressing against her back and his arms on either side of her, she felt much more comfortable in this situation than she should have. Here she was about to set off for an unknown location in the middle of the night with her not-boyfriend and his psychotic brother in order to avoid the unknown illness that was rapidly infecting the population and leaving civilization in ruins.

"Anything else?"

Grace looked around, the drawers were open and partially empty. She had already packed her first aid kit, shower things, handfuls of washcloths and some spare towels. "Birth control." She shrugged and he opened the other side of the cabinet, flinching just a little bit. He grabbed the pink plastic case and assorted painkillers, cough syrups and allergy medications alongside it, without meeting her eyes. He had never been good when it came to discussing the serious stuff, though they had never not used some form of protection. He'd known for years that she was on the pill.

"Cond…" He started and she interrupted him.

"Got them."

He grunted in response. "Let's go then."

"Yeah," she agreed and watched as he slung the bag over his shoulder and followed him out of the bathroom.

Merle had lit a cigarette when they got out to the truck. He stepped on the butt and threw a leg over his bike. "You two finish yer snugglefest? We've gotta get our fucking asses out of here, you pussies. Don't want to get trapped behind roadblocks."

"Fuck off, Merle." Daryl attempted to quiet his brother and the other man just chuckled, rocking back and forth on the bike. Grace helped herself into the car. Not bothering to buckle her seat belt, but locking the door behind her for her own peace of mind, Grace shuffled her things around in the truck cab. She had most of the things in the back seat by the time Daryl finished double checking the tarp and let himself in. He started the engine and followed behind Merle as the bike once again pulled onto the main road.

They drove in silence, without even the radio for company, and the lights dimmed as much as possible to not attract attention. When they managed to hit the old logging road that circled around the town to the main highway without any interference, Daryl relaxed a little bit. At least enough at least to turn on the radio, though it was barely loud enough to hear.

Grace spoke first to break the tension. "I'm not angry." She wanted him to know.

"You aren't?" Daryl looked at her as if that was exactly what he needed to hear, but didn't want to believe it. "Becky is gonna be pissed at you."

"I don't care about what Becky thinks. This is going to keep us safe?"

He was quiet for a minute and turned away, keeping his eyes firmly straight ahead. The low strains of the latest Script song playing over the airwaves filled the cab. "I hope so." He nodded.

"Then I'm not mad." Her voice caught in her throat and she choked back on her tears.

Barely looking at her, he took one white knuckled hand off the steering wheel and lifted his arm. She slid under the raised arm, burying herself into his side and pressing her face into his flannel shirt. Daryl sighed and rested his chin on top of her head. "It'll be okay," he mumbled into her hair, kissing at the crown of her head lightly. "It'll be okay. I promise. Ain't gonna let nothing happen to you. I got this covered."

She let go then, finally allowing her tears to flow freely, wetting his shirt and causing her to lose her breath. On the road ahead of them, the motorcycle bumped along in their headlights, and the forest began to grow thicker around the road. Inside, Grace lost herself in the smell of Daryl - oil, leather smoke, sawdust, the little bit of cologne or whatever it was he wore - and the quiet melodies on the radio.

The Dixon family hunting camp had been in the family for four generations and it was starting to show it. Daryl had tried his best to keep it up to working standards, adding a small generator and working fridge just a few years earlier. The water was pumped up straight from the lake, cold and crisp. This was to be their final destination.

Grace had been there once before, never with Merle. There was little appealing about Daryl's brother other than a good shot and the ability to get himself out of tight situations. He was as close to slime of the earth as you could get still in a solid form. Addict, dealer, alcoholic, racist, sexist. There were few describing terms that made him worth taking along. He was family though and Grace knew that. Daryl wouldn't leave him behind when it came to something like this. At least he wasn't in the truck with them.

The trip itself took just forty-five minutes, but most of that was on bumpy, unkempt dirt roads. No one would think to look for them all the way out here. They would have more pressing issues to deal with. Grace's tears were long dried on her cheeks by the time they pulled into the driveway. Still, when they pulled up in front of the camp, Daryl patted at her awkwardly and said he'd go deal with Merle so she could get herself into sorts. In private he might be okay dealing with a crying girl, but in front of his brother, he would refuse to even look at her too long, let alone comfort her. Dixon men did not do public affection.

She sat in the truck for a just a few seconds before reaching down to the box of Kleenex that Daryl kept on the floor of the truck. She wet a few pieces with water from an old half-filled water bottle stuck in the door, and rubbed them over her face, trying to rid herself of the sticky salt dried on her cheeks. Merle was going to be aggressive with her, and she didn't need to give him any more ammunition than he already had. Daryl walked back over to the truck after talking to his brother. Merle was starting to unload the case on the back of his bike and was paying no attention to the other two.

Daryl tapped on the door and then popped it open. "You good?"

"Yeah," she said, straightening herself out. "I'll help unload the truck."

"You don't need to…"

"No, really." She smirked, spinning her legs toward the door and pushing against Daryl subtly. "The last thing I need is Merle on my case about what a lazy bitch I am. I'll help."

Just then Merle hollered, "The lazy whore gonna get her ass out a' that truck and help, or would her highness just like to watch the lowly workmen do their job?"

Grace gave Daryl a pointed look and he broke eye contact, ashamed. Daryl allowed her to pass, and she grabbed her suitcase out of the back of the truck and began hauling it toward the house. "Fuck you, Merle," she sneered on the way past.

"Oh, so the slut speaks."

She ignored him and kept moving toward the main building. The hazardous porch gave her trouble with the wheels of her suitcase, and she fought to get it inside. The front door wasn't locked when she got there, and she twisted the knob to let herself inside.

Daryl had first brought her here seven years earlier for her twenty-first birthday. It was the beginning of August, and she had already been frustrated with being home from university for the summer. Though she insisted that she didn't want to do anything, several of her girlfriends from high school had planned a small get together at the bar. Too much attention had always made Grace uncomfortable and that, combined with her over the top alcohol consumption, drove her out the back door to sit on the picnic table used for staff breaks. Daryl, still mostly sober, had spotted her escape and followed her.

"You don't look so happy, birthday girl." He nudged her arm when he sat down beside her and pulled a pack of smokes out of his shirt pocket.

"I barely know any of these people anymore. I don't give a shit about them. This has been the longest summer of my life. I hate this town"

"It ain't so bad." He shrugged, flicking his lighter and holding it to the end of the long cylinder. He turned his head away from her and blew smoke into the night.

"It has its bright spots." She gave him a quick crooked grin before frowning. "I'm just so… fed up!" Grace smacked the table with an open palm to emphasize her point. "I've never done anything wrong or dangerous. I want to do something wild."

"Yer drunk and sitting out in the back alley behind a bar with an old man," he offered.

"You aren't that old."

"Older than you." He shrugged. "Anyway, yer not the type to go around doing wild things. Just ain't you."

"Well, I want it to be. I just want to run away for a weekend. Take off and not tell anyone where I'm going. Well," she paused to think of it. "Maybe mom, so she doesn't send the cops after me."

"So do it."

"I don't have anywhere to go. I'm broke from school, and there's nowhere I can go without spending my summer wages. It's not going to happen."

They sat in silence for a while, Daryl smoking and Grace drinking out of the beer she smuggled out under her shirt. He stood up suddenly, the end of his cigarette hanging out of his mouth. "Wanna come up to the camp with me?"

"Are you drunk?" She asked offhandedly, not taking him seriously.

"No, I'm drivin' you home. You said you wanted to run away for a while. You ain't workin' for the next couple of days, are you? Come with me up to the camp."

"Seriously?"

"Call your mom. We'll go get your shit from home and pick up stuff at the twenty-four hour on our way out of town."

"Yeah!" A little drunk and more that a little eager, she called her mom and lied about the girls inviting her out for a couple of days, saying she would be home to pick up a few things. Daryl drove her home and parked down the street so he wouldn't be seen. Letting herself in the back door, Grace tiptoed in. She packed quickly, praying that her mom wouldn't look out the window to see Daryl's truck. Then she ran out the back door, as quietly as possible, since her mom had fallen back asleep on the couch. Still in her dress shirt, they ransacked the twenty-four hour grocery store, shocking the late night cashier. When they finally got to the cabin though, all they wanted to do was unpack and sit on the back lawn.

Daryl built a campfire and cracked open a case of beer.

"Cheers," he said, offering her one.

"Finally going to drink with me?" Grace laughed. "Took you long enough."

"Well, if you didn't plan on runnin' away in the middle of the night, I wouldn't have to be designated driver," he mumbled under his breath.

They watched the fire and chatted in the dark, drinking down the beers until both of them were content.

Tired and more than a little buzzed, Grace dropped down onto the grass to stare up at the stars. "I love stars," she sighed.

"Yer losin' it." He scuffed his boot into the dirt around the campfire, squashing an escaping ember.

"Come lay with me."

The grass was wet and he protested, but even while arguing against it, Daryl flopped down on his back under the navy blue night. One hand tucked under his head, they finished off the last of their bottles. Daryl pointed out constellation after constellation, while Grace filled in the stories behind them from what she remembered from her Mythology class first year of university. Finally, they fell quiet and she began to shiver in the damp as the night cooled off and the fire died. Snuggling up against a reluctant Daryl for body heat, she sighed.

Between them, her phone buzzed insistently. Daryl growled. "Get that already."

"It's Amber. She's mad I left."

"Tell her to fuck off then," he mumbled sleepily. She fumbled around in her pocket, brushing up against Daryl and wiggling around. "Would you stop fuckin' movin'?" he grunted. Finally, he reached down and covered her hand with his. With determined fingers, he slid his own hand into her pocket, shifting them even closer. Then the phone was removed and he held it lazily over his head.

"Hey!" She protested. "Give it back."

He slid the phone open and awkwardly tried to respond to Amber's anxious texts. "Fuck off. Havin' a party for two with a sexy, UMPH!"

Grace launched herself on top of him and tried to wrestle the phone away. "It's mine, gimme!"

"Nope," he laughed. "Not gonna happen."

They struggled for a couple of minutes, laughing and play-tussling, until Grace wormed her way up Daryl's body and stretched her arm up over his head to try to reach the phone he was holding out of her reach. Finally, she managed to struggle her fingers under his and pry lose his grip. "Ha!" She cheered triumphantly, then looked down to find herself staring directly into Daryl's blue eyes. "Oh," she mumbled, blushing suddenly as she realized just what position they were in. "Hey."

"Hey," he whispered, reaching up to brush back her hair. He shifted uncomfortably as they lay there much longer than was normal to hold eye contact, neither one of them wanting to break it. Grace realized suddenly that he was trying to maneuver his hips away from hers. A slow grin of realization spread across her face and he blushed under her. His discomfort grew as her discovery hung heavy between them "Get off." He pushed her roughly to the side and stood, adjusting himself.

"Daryl," she protested, struggling to her feet. Her coordination was off and it took her longer than usual.

"I'm goin' in," he said kicking at a rock beside the dying fire.

Grace chased after him as he stormed toward the house. "Stop." He was embarrassed. She knew it and he wouldn't admit it. Finally, she caught his arm, tugging on it so he spun to face her. "Don't run away from me," she insisted.

"Don't push this," he grunted.

"How long?" She wanted to know, and he broke their eye contact again. "Fine, don't answer. I just want you to remember I'm not fifteen any more. This isn't illegal or even wrong. This is two consenting adults just having some fun. Two friends who have had a little too much to drink. No matter the age difference. We are friends, right?" She wanted to know. He turned toward her and nodded, stiffly, unsure of where this was going. "Anyway, I said that I wanted to do something wild." Firmly, she slid her hands up into his hair and pulled his mouth down to hers.

"Oh yeah?" he mumbled against her mouth.

"Yeah," she said firmly. "You got a bed in there or is this happening on the porch?"

"There's a double. Up in the loft, ain't much but…"

"I just want to be horizontal and not on grass," Grace insisted.

"Inside then," he panted, directing their movement with his hips. She ground back against him as their journey into the house slowed considerably with the addition of walls for support. The cabin was roughly built, made of bits and pieces over the years. The main room was a kitchen, dining, and living space combined. In the middle was a long table, surrounded by nearly a dozen mismatched chairs. The couches on the other side were worn and well-used. Watching them from the rafters were dozens of deer heads. Under any other situation, Grace may have taken the time to feel uncomfortable, but right now, she was struggling to work the buttons on Daryl's shirt and get it off him. Trying to focus on that and slowly losing herself in the combination of chapped lips, stubble, and nipping teeth along her jaw line, she was lost.

Getting into the loft itself involved stopping their actions long enough for Daryl to lower the trap door in the hallway to unfold the stairs. Grace whined when he first pulled away, then just wanted him to hurry up already.

When they first met, their nine year age difference was cause for concern among Grace's friends and family. Still, they were nothing more than friends. Very close friends. Grace often told people that Daryl was like the older brother she never had. They teased each other more than anything and Daryl looked out for her. She wasn't sure when the teasing had shifted more to light-hearted flirting, but it had been becoming more and more a part of their relationship. A deeper sexual undercurrent had begun to run through their actions. Still, neither of them had ever acted on it until now - Daryl too shy and cautious of the age difference, Grace not wanting to destroy one of the best friendships she had. But lust and alcohol coupled to finally bring the two together.

It was sometimes best to just let nature take its course.

The loft had a low ceiling, and the drop down stairs were narrow, requiring them to go up one at a time. Momentarily, Daryl returned to his shy, cautious approach. It was as if the heavy petting and passionate lip work hadn't happened just a few moments earlier.

"So..." He rubbed the back of his head with one hand. "We don't really gotta…"

Grace pushed past him toward the bed and dropped down onto it. "This is it?"

"Yeah."

"Do you have anything?"

"Wha?" He looked at her brow furrowed. "Oh, um, I don't got nothin' like… well, I'm clean."

She smiled and laughed. Daryl looked at her nervously. "That's not what I meant," she explained. "I meant like, condoms or something."

"Shit." He deflated. "No, I mean, I didn't even think about this, you know, actually happening."

"It's fine. I took my pill this morning, so we should be good." She looked up worried. "Unless you're not good with that or something?" Now they were both anxious and nervous that nothing was going to happen.

The awkward silence carried on for a few seconds until Daryl shifted his feet finally and mumbled, "You're good with that?"

"I am if you are."

"Let's do this then," he muttered and moved toward the bed. Daryl had barely taken two steps when she burst out laughing. "What?" he asked, offended.

"This is so us." She giggled. "Completely unprepared and then straight to the point. You make it sound like a chore."

"Fuck off," he muttered.

"If we ever get there…" She grinned.

Daryl tensed and then changed his mind and stalked toward the bed. "Listen here, we're gonna do this proper and shit…"

"Shut up." Grace stood and hooked her index fingers into his belt loops. She stood on tiptoes and pressed her lips against his once again. For a moment they just softly kissed, breathing getting more and more shallow until Daryl forced Grace backward onto the bed and pulled his shirt over his head, buttons be damned. Grace made a noise of protest at how long it was taking, and he crawled onto the bed, lowering his weight onto her carefully and nipping at her jaw.

"Yer really sure?" he asked again, not stopping the hickey he was trying to create on the side of her neck.

"I want skin," was her answer, and he complied by working his fingers under her shirt until it caught on her armpits and balled under her chin. Daryl leaned back just enough to work the shirt over her head. It caught on her hair, and they ended up having to use all four hands to get it off. She sighed as he settled back down and worked calloused fingers into the hair they had just messed up, rubbing gently with the pads of his fingers to soothe the sore spots on her scalp where the hair had been pulled.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "Didn't mean to pull so damn much." She leaned up to catch his mouth once again.

"Apology accepted. I knew there was a reason I didn't want to let them put me in that thing."

"Just, I haven't done this in a while, and I ain't too good with girl clothes to begin with and…" He babbled, tension lining his face. The gruff man looked almost fragile, and Grace didn't want to laugh, but the whole thing really was sort of funny. Here was Daryl Dixon, who according to the rumours that ran around town, had been trying to seduce her innocent self for the past six years. And here she was in the end, feeling like she was the one taking advantage of him.

She pushed herself up into a sitting position, forcing Daryl back onto his heels. "You're talking too much."

"Wha?"

"Stop talking and just get back to the sexing. Honestly, which one of us is the girl here?"

"Oh hell! Don't go there woman," he growled, a little bit angry and a little bit playful. Forcing her back onto the bed, he bit hard at the apex of her shoulder and she sighed into the action.

"Better," she panted. "Could do a little more though."

Daryl snorted and pushed forcefully at her bra, not bothering to unclasp it. It made the material uncomfortably tight, to the point that it bit into her side, and just as she was about to protest, a hand firmly grabbed her breast and began to knead it, his thumb and index finger pinching almost hard enough to take her mind away from the pain. She struggled to reach behind her and just undo the bra herself.

Getting the idea, Daryl slid his hands under her and searched her back for the clasp. They struggled to get it undone without breaking their kiss, and eventually, either one or both of them managed to get the tiny hooks undone, and they tossed the bra aside to be retrieved much, much later.

Finally free, at least from the waist up, Grace wrapped her arms around Daryl, pulling him flush against her, the denim separating their hips causing torturous friction. She was content, enjoying the turn of events that her birthday had taken. Softly, she licked at Daryl's lips, requesting access again. He complied easily.

Tonight was not their first kiss; the honour of that title had gone to the past New Year's. Somehow they'd ended up running into each other. Grace's friends had gotten them fake IDs, and they had gone two towns over to one of the larger bars where they wouldn't be recognized. Daryl was adamant that he had not followed them, that he had not known they would be there, and that, of course, he came here all the time. As the champagne popped around them, Daryl had sought her out from where he had been sitting quietly in a corner watching her dance all night. "Hey there, Carter," he whispered against her ear through curls and hairspray. The chanting numbers slowed to silence in her mind as everyone shouted, "Happy New Year's," and reached for their friends and partners for the New Year's kiss. "How about it then, sweetheart." He smirked. "Where's my New Year kiss?"

That kiss had been quick and chaste, joking and playful, this one – or rather this series of kisses – was insistent and determined. A kiss with a goal in mind, and that goal was to release a tension that had been building since their first eye contact. It was a slow, subtle build that would eventually turn the tides of their friendship into a dance of sexual frustration that neither knew how to act upon.

That first kiss, the innuendo behind it, the implied jokes of what you do on New Year's is what you'll do during the rest of the year. It had turned out to be true apparently. Who would have ever thought that?

Daryl broke the kiss and sighed, pressing his forehead against hers. His harsh breath was warm on her face, and she whined at again having to stop. "Yer really sure..."

"If you stop me again, I'm going to tie you to the bed."

"Next time," he chuckled, pressing a single kiss to the side of her mouth. She turned to catch his mouth, and he shifted so she couldn't. "Easy, said we were doing this right, didn't I?"

"Don't want it right. Just hard and fast."

"Another time." Daryl rubbed his cheek against hers, slowly sliding downward to tongue her nipples. He ran his rough fingers across her collarbone and downward, tracing each of her ribs in turn. He laved and tongue bathed her until she didn't know if she was shivering from anticipation or all the spit.

"More," she pleaded. "Please more, anything more. I'll do whatever you want!"

"Anything?" He chuckled, shifting his groin against her leg forcefully.

"Anything, everything. Just please! Daryl. Please."

"Since you asked so nicely." He kissed between her breasts and down her sternum, following the rise and fall of her chest to her stomach with his teeth and tongue. Grace whimpered. Daryl looked up briefly to brightly grin at her before lowering his hands to the button on her jeans. He skillfully managed to get it undone without losing eye contact, and he slowly lowered the zipper. She wiggled her hips, attempting to speed up the removal of her pants, but he was determined to move as slowly as possible. He pressed slow kisses to each inch of skin he revealed, nipping at her knees and tugging to finally just get rid of the material when he got to her ankles. The removal of her panties was much less ceremonious because she twisted and managed to assist in the removal process. They stilled finally with his breath ghosting across her hip and his fingers tugging lightly at her curls.

"Spread a little," he instructed, looming over her and attempting to push her legs apart, half with his hands and half with his cheek. She tensed for a moment and he gently pushed a little more. "Come on."

Biting her lip she complied reluctantly. He sighed happily and rubbed his nose against her pubic bone, snuggling himself into her pubic hair. Her breathing changed, coming more sharply, less lustful, more tense. "What'sa matter?" he groaned, pulling himself back up to eye level. "Don't like having someone go down on you? That'd be a first."

Grace blushed and shook her head.

"Well, if that ain't it then just let me get a taste of ya." He chuckled and moved in to kiss her quickly, but stopped before his lips even brushed hers. "Something's wrong. You change your mind?"

She shook her head again. "It's just," she worried at her bottom lip for a second. "No one's…"

"If yer tellin' me what I think yer tellin' me." His eyes widened. "You've never had no one eat you out. I ain't your first or nothing, am I? Cause I sure as shit weren't made for breakin' no one in."

"I've had sex before!" Grace insisted forcefully.

"And no guy never ate you out? That ain't right." He propped himself up on one arm, "How many guys you been with. Honest, no teasing."

"Like three."

"Like?"

"Two and then Mitch in high school, you know." She wiggled her fingers.

He laughed. "But you've at least gotten off right."

Now she was downright offended. "Yes," she sniffed.

"Don't get all huffy. Just trying to figure out what I'm working with. Ever suck a guy off?"

"I've given blowjobs."

"So why has a guy never done you then?"

Grace didn't know. It had never even dawned on her to ask. She had never considered it really an option. That just wasn't the sort of relationships she'd had. They fucked, then the guy rolled over and went to sleep. Sometimes she got off, sometimes she didn't. It wasn't long and romantic. It was just part of the arrangement. "Just never came up, I guess."

"Knew I never liked none of yer boyfriends."

"Could you be any more jealous right now?"

He wound his fingers through her hair and kissed her firmly. Tugging gently at the strands between her fingers, he mumbled against her mouth. "Not even a little. My magic number's higher than yers, and you don't seem concerned. Plus I get to be yer first at somethin' at least."

"You know most guys don't want to." She stumbled over her words. "I don't expect it. That wasn't what I came up here for."

"No, most guys you've been with are stupid. Told you we was doin' this right. Part of that includes me getting to lick you… Are you blushing? Is this whole little chat makin' you uncomfortable."

"Please stop talking."

"Nope, you've got no clue how fuckin' hot it is that I get to be the first guy to have his tongue there. I don't want this to just be fuckin'. If I wanted a fuck, would we be here? We're not talkin' makin' love or any of that shit, but it's not just fuckin' either. We're friends right? You trust me? Well, don't you find it a little strange that you'd trust me enough not to use a condom, but not enough to eat you out? You wanted friends with benefits?" He hissed in her ear. "This is one of those benefits. I've thought about it before. Tonguin' you, gettin' you all worked up into a lather, yer taste on my tongue. I bet you taste like salt-water taffy."

"Dare," she whined, hands clenching against his back.

"Yeah, sweetheart? You thought about me, haven't you? What'd you think of doin? Fuckin' me? Riding me?" He rolled his r, purring against her like a big, happy cat. "Ever think of sucking me down to the root?" She moaned. "Same thing. That's what real men do. We don't just think about where we're gonna stick it. Sometimes we want to play with our food before we eat it." He nudged his knee between her legs and forced them apart, rubbing at her centre with his thigh. Slowly, he brought his arm down and stroked between her folds. Her breath hitched and he snickered. He brought his hand up to his lips, drawing one finger into his mouth. "Mmmm," he hummed. "Perfect. You'll let me, right? Say yes, please."

"I told you, anything," she started nervously. Carefully, she allowed her legs to fall apart.

Daryl's eyes began to twinkle. "Yeah, you did!"

"So, yeah." Grace reached to cup his cheek gently. "Anything. I trust you."

He kissed her then, tongue pushing insistently at her lips, rubbing up against her teeth, his own teeth nipping at her lips. When he slowed his kissing, he mouthed her jaw, back down her body until he was looking up at her from hip level. "You tell me if you don't like somethin', you hear?"

Grace nodded, one hand already tense in the comforter, the other in his hair. "Just do it already!" she urged.

"Takin' my time to enjoy the view down here." He let a puff of hot air out, fingers spreading her for a better look. "Hello there sweetheart, been thinkin' about you for a long time." He turned his head and pressed insistent kisses against her leg. "You know, the longer it takes for you to enjoy this, the slower I'm gonna have to go." The hand in his hair twisted and he chuckled. Daryl leaned forward again and sucked his mark into her leg. Leaning back just slightly to admire his work, he looked up. Grace was struggling to watch him without being too obvious about it. "The pillows," he offered offhandedly.

"Wha?" she exhaled the breath she had been holding.

"If you wanna watch the show, you might as well make yourself comfortable." He sat back on his heels, looking at her approvingly. "Go on. Move 'em around."

Grace didn't think it was possible to blush any harder. Without making any form of eye contact, she moved the pillows around behind her until she could see Daryl comfortably, then flopped back down.

"What your big problem is," he said, tracing invisible lines down her thighs, "is that you," he kissed her thigh, "need," kiss, "to," kiss, "relax." He planted a final kiss on her leg. "Just let go fer a bit and maybe you'll like it."

He kept his eyes locked with hers as he slowly lowered his head towards her, eyes dropping down at the last second. He nudged her with his nose, parting her with his fingers and licking gently. Her hips shifted automatically, and he reached a hand to still her. "Shhh," he quieted before lapping at her clit. Grace panted, her hands making their way from the sheets to clutch his hair. His work was slow, much slower than Grace could have anticipated. Every time he changed something he was doing, he made eye contact, checking for approval. She was trembling by the time he brought the first finger to her entrance. Without entering her, he traced at her with his finger, manipulating her folds with his tongue.

"Daryl!" she whined.

He licked across her clit with the flat part of his tongue. "Yeah?" His finger skidded around its goal.

"If you don't…"

"Don't what?" His licking turned into sucking, and she made an undignified sound of pleasure. "Oh wait? Did you want something?" He petted slowly at her with the pad of his index finger. He grinned up at her and eased the digit inside her. He slid his finger out again just as slowly and back in. "Good?"

She nodded.

"You good for more?"

"Yes," she sighed.

Daryl added a second finger and resumed circling her clit with his tongue.

"More, more, more!" she chanted. Seeking purchase, her hands fumbled as her body began to thrum.

"Easy, sweetheart," he soothed, slowly sliding his fingers out. He replaced them with his tongue, moving his fingers to her clit instead. Nose deep, he licked and sucked until her body trembled enough to nearly dislodge him. Smacking his lips, he pulled back and looked at her. "Ever kiss a guy after you sucked him off?"

"Eric said it was…"

"Eric's a cunt." Daryl pushed himself up again and balanced above her. Slowly he leaned toward her and applied just enough pressure to her lips to let her know he was there. He held perfectly still until curiosity got the better of her. She let her tongue slip tentatively out to lick across his already damp mouth. She could feel him smirking as she traced his chapped lips, tasting herself and his last cigarette. Finally giving in, he kissed her back, tangling his tongue with hers and snaking one hand into her hair. The other headed south, and he had plunged two fingers back into her before she was really aware of where they were heading.

She gasped, body tensing and he stroked hard and fast, pressing open-mouthed kisses to her jaw as she panted. His mouth moved toward her ear to tug on her earlobe and he twisted his fingers. Thumbing her clit quickly, he nipped gently with his teeth before growling, "Ready to cum yet?" He chuckled as her nails bit into his spine, frustration clear on her face. "You know what I think?" he asked. She didn't respond and he continued. "I bet you you've never cum on anyone's fingers but your own. I bet you that after your boyfriends," he slurred the word, "have finished, you get yourself off. That or you fake it. Lots of girls do. Most don't know how to ask for what they want. Hell, most don't even know what they want. Difference is I actually give a shit. I want to see you fall apart. Bet it feels better. My fingers are bigger, better angle, I can see what I'm doing." She whimpered, the sound catching in her throat. "I want this just as much as you do." He kissed her thoroughly, mimicking until her mouth fell open and he softly licked at the inside.

She whimpered, the air seeming to choke her until her hands finally caught on his shoulders and her body stiffened. Moaning low, Grace fell apart around his fingers, which slowly worked the orgasm out of her.

As his hand slowed, she released him, slumping limply back to the bed. "Uhnh."

"Really?" he asked inquisitively, considering his fingers before licking her off them. She followed him with her eyes, carefully watching his every move. "Well, it's not saltwater taffy, but it ain't bad either."

Her hands shot up, finally rediscovering movement, and yanked his mouth down to hers, dislodging his fingers. She bit at his lips before demanding access to his mouth, licking at his tongue and trying to catch the last traces of what had just happened. They battled for a long moment before both needed to breath. Daryl rested his forehead against hers, rubbing their noses together. "You like that then?"

She rubbed his nose back and nodded. "Can you fuck me now?"

His chuckle was deep. "Sure thing, sweetheart."

Her hands fumbled almost immediately at the waistband of his jeans, and he leaned back a little to let her. Grace struggled with the best way to get them down and off before Daryl just pulled back completely and hopped off the bed. His fly undone, he smirked and shimmied his hips, jeans dropping to the floor instantly so he could kick them away. As he crawled back into bed, she palmed insistently at his boxers.

"Mmmm," he hummed happily. "So how you want to do this?"

"Every way." She grinned. "Every which way we can think of and then some more."

"Sounds like a plan for a night when I haven't been waitin' so long," he growled and rubbed at one ankle with the opposite foot. "Fuck," he muttered.

"What?"

"I ain't gonna fuck you with my damn socks on. Can't fuck nobody properly with socks on."

Grace laughed and rubbed at his ribs, soothing the tension. "Well then, get the rest of your shit off so we can do this."

He grunted and complied, tugging off each sock before pulling off the boxers and letting his cock spring free. Daryl kicked his last article of clothing off the bed and settled back between her thighs. Reaching down tentatively, Grace let her fingers ghost over him, thumb rubbing curiously at the head.

"Nuh-uh." He kissed her quickly. "That'll have to be next time. Won't last otherwise, been waiting on this too long."

"Okay," she pouted and he kissed at her again. Fisting himself once urgently, he slowly brought himself to her entrance, covered her mouth with his and pushed forward. Sighing, they both paused to adjust, faces so close together that they were breathing each other's air. Grace pushed her head up, sealing their mouths together to complete the transfer of oxygen. Daryl licked cautiously at her lips, seeking access. She moaned, finally shifting. He moved against her tentatively. Her hands ran down his arms, coming to rest against his fingers. He threaded them together. Slowly, he stretched her arms above her head and held them there, their hands knotted together. They worked as a fulcrum, balancing each other out. Their years of slowly building tension released in precise actions and imprecise reactions.

Grace arched, her back bowing as the tension in her stomach grew. She could feel herself approaching the edge again. "Dare?"

"Mmmm?" he whined from the back of his throat, voice lost in the moment.

"Close." She flexed, and he groaned at the constriction.

"Don't do that, Carter. If I lose it, yer gonna end up waiting, no matter how close you are."

She laughed and hooked her leg around his bum to bring him closer. He adjusted to her more open position and increased the pace of his actions. Letting go of one hand, he slipped his fingers between their bodies to increase the friction between them. Grace squeezed the hand he was still holding even tighter. Under his careful fingers she bucked against him, whining and moaning. Finally, Daryl began to catch signs that he had noticed as he licked at her, the pink in her cheeks, the way her breathing came in short bursts, how quiet she got.

"You good there, sweetheart?"

She nodded appreciatively and clung to him, the scramble of nails on his back and the way her body was becoming more rigid, fueling his actions, making him more frantic. Finally, he felt the quiver as she reached her release again. "Oh fuck, Grace." Pressing his face into her neck, he panted, losing control as she came around him. His movements became short and jerky as he too found release and spilled inside her.

The two lay intertwined on the bed, breath coming fast, having lost complete control of their muscles. Daryl groaned and shifted, pulling out slowly. He kissed her forehead as he tugged her around on the bed, trying to find the edge of the blankets so they could crawl under them. When they finally settled under the covers, Daryl resumed his hold on her hand, kissing each fingertip in turn. "We're gonna have to call you Amazing Grace from now on," he stated firmly.

Burrowing herself into his chest, she snorted. "If you call me that in public, I will have you put to death. Slowly."

"Fair enough." He shrugged. On the bed beside them, her cell phone buzzed to life again. "Jesus Christ!" he snarled. "Do something about your damn phone, woman!"

"It's not like I'm texting them. They just want to know what happened to the birthday girl on her birthday." Grace picked up her phone and moved to turn it off. Noticing the date, she grinned.

"Actually, now it's my birthday. I think that's a good way to start a new year."

"Happy Birthday." He grinned and kissed her, then yawned. "We sleepin' now or are you chattin' all night?"

"Go to sleep, you big baby." She laughed at him and he flopped down onto the pillows, pulling her with him. Her eyes closed as Daryl rubbed his nose into her hair and then lightly began combing it with his fingers.

She snuggled back against him and kissed him gently. "Thanks for running away with me," she said lazily.

They were already beginning to fall asleep when he grunted, "An' if you ever tell Merle I cuddle after, I'll tear you apart."

Grace laughed and simply tried to get closer.

"You can put your stuff upstairs. Don't let Merle scare you out of takin' the loft." Daryl had snuck up behind her and broke her train of thought.

"The loft?"

"Yeah." Daryl dropped the cardboard box he was carrying on the threadbare couch. "I was figurin' since it has the big bed up there. 'Less you weren't thinkin' that. Then you can go on and use that one off the kitchen." He began digging through the box, pretending to be looking for something so he didn't have to look at her.

Grace sighed. "Merle's got his mind set on sleeping upstairs, huh?"

"Sounded like it, the way he was grumblin'."

Daryl was shying away from her again. He tended to get about as close to committing as someone could get, then backpedal as fast as he could away from it. He was skittish, but she had been handling him for years. "Guess we'd better sleep up there then." She tugged her suitcase around the couch and brushed past him as she moved toward the hallway where the ladder to the loft was.

"Yeah?" Daryl said hopefully, then cleared his throat. "Yeah?" He repeated a little more seriously.

"Already christened it, haven't we?"

Daryl's fleeting smile was worth it.

Beta Credit (And all my adoration) to: eloquent dreams